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How to Grow Delicata Squash

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Grow your own personal serving size side dish when you plant delicata, a Cucurbita pepo squash, in your vegetable garden. The bush variety of delicata is even suitable for a flower bed. Its bright yellow blossoms and multipointed leaves bring an unusual accent to the standard blend of annuals and perennials. A winter squash with a hard shell that keeps it viable for cooking long after its autumn harvest, delicata's vitamin-rich flesh enhances savory dishes or desserts and is a versatile favorite in vegetarian cuisine.

Find a planting location that receives full sunlight for the greater part of the day. Allow 4 square feet of free space to grow the Cornell Bush Delicata variety and at least 20 square feet if you are growing the vining varieties.

Spread a 3-inch layer of compost on a 2-square-foot space in the planting area's center. Dig the compost into the soil. Push the mixed soil into a flat-topped, 1-square-foot round mound. When daytime temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for five to seven days, the prepared ground is ready for planting.

Set five delicata squash seeds, evenly spaced from one another, on top of the mound. Press the seeds 1 inch deep into the soil. Brush dirt over the seed holes and pat repeatedly to firm and level the soil.

Water the newly planted seeds gently until the mound is completely soaked. Water daily, if necessary, to keep the mound moist until the delicata seedlings emerge. When the first set of leaves reach 2 inches long, pull and discard all but three of the plants. Continue watering through the next month whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry. Thereafter, water deeply only when the top 2 inches of ground are dry.

Spread a 2-inch layer of mulch in a minimum two-foot circle around the squash seedlings to retain ground moisture and suppress weed growth. Check routinely for any weeds that emerge and pull them out by the roots when the ground is moist from watering.

Place a 1-inch-deep by 4-inch-wide layer of aged manure or rich compost in a ring one foot out from the plants' bases when the plants reach 6 to 8 inches high. Apply a second ring of manure or compost when the first flower buds are plump, just before they begin to bloom.

Examine the delicata squash plants frequently for light-colored powderlike residue on the leaves. Promptly remove and discard leaves and vines affected by powdery mildew. Pick insects, including squash bugs, off the plants by hand and crush. For a major infestation, apply commercially available pyrethrin according to the instructions on the manufacturer's label.

Test delicata squash for readiness to pick by lightly pressing a fingernail against its skin. If the skin is hard, snip the squash from the plant, keeping 2 inches of the vine attached.

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